India in shutdown over citizen bill

AP, GAUHATI, India

Wed, Dec 11, 2019 - Page 4

Hundreds of demonstrators yesterday closed down streets in northeastern India as part of an 11-hour shutdown in protest of legislation that would grant citizenship to persecuted Hindus and other religious minorities from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who immigrated to the country illegally.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed by a majority vote in India’s lower house after midnight and still needs to be passed by the upper house before becoming law.

The shutdown began at 5am and was organized by the North East Students Organization, an association of student groups from across India’s eight northeastern states.

They oppose the bill out of concern that more migrants would move to the border region and dilute the culture and political sway of indigenous tribal people.

“The northeast is already hit by large-scale illegal influx from Bangladesh and now the government is trying to provide citizenship to a whole lot of migrant Hindus and others. How can you grant citizenship on the basis of religion?” All Assam Students’ Union chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya said.

Protesters blocked traffic across the state of Assam, including in the state capital Gauhati, by burning tires and sitting on roads. Shops and businesses closed, and several vehicles were vandalized.

Bhaskar Mahanta, director-general of police in Assam, said that several protesters had been detained or arrested, but the situation was under control.